The Kinks were part of the British Invasion, and their early hits, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," paved the way for the power chords of the next decade's hard rock. But most of leader Ray Davies' songs have been elegies for the beleaguered British middle class, scenarios for rock theater, and tales of show-business survival. After their first burst of popularity, the Kinks became a cult band in the mid-'70s until, buoyed by the new wave’s rediscovery of the Davies catalogue, they returned to arenas in the ’80s. In the ’90s brothers Dave and Ray established more separate identities while the Kinks’ reputation remained secure.
Ray Davies was attending art school when he joined his younger brother Dave’s band, the Ravens, in 1963. In short order Ray took over the group - renamed the Kinks - retaining bassist Pete Quaife and recruiting Mick Avory to play drums. With this lineup they released a pair of unsuccessful singles before recording “You Really Got Me,” a #1 hit in England that reached #7 in the U.S. in 1964. The following year “All Day and All of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting for You” both reached the Top 10 in the U.S. and set a pattern for future releases of alternating tough rockers (“Who’ll Be the Next in Line”) and ballads (“Set Me Free”).
In 1966 the Kinks released two singles of pointed satire, “A Well Respected Man” (#13) and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (#36), indicating the personal turn Ray Davies’ songs were taking. Their next album, The Kinks Kontroversy, though containing another hard-rock 45, “Till the End of the Day” (#50) was increasingly introspective, with songs like “I’m on an Island.” Also that year, an appearance on the American TV show Hullabaloo resulted in a problem with the American Federation of Musicians that wasn’t resolved until 1969 and prevented the group from touring the U.S. for some time. “Sunny Afternoon” (#14, 1966) from Face to Face was their last hit of that period.
During their years of U.S. exile, Ray Davies composed the first of many concept albums, (The Kinks Are) The Village Green Preservation Society (1968), an LP of nostalgia for all the quaint English customs (such as virginity) that other bands were rebelling against. Dave Davies, who had been writing the occasional song for the Kinks almost from the beginning, had a “solo” hit in England with “Death of a Clown,” actually a Kinks song that he wrote and sang. More of Dave’s singles followed (“Susannah’s Still Alive,” “Lincoln County”), none of which repeated the success of “Clown.” A planned solo album was recorded but released much later, in 1987, as The Album That Never Was. The Kinks’ next LP, Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, was, with the Who’s Tommy, an early rock opera written for a British TV show that never aired.
The Kinks’ next concept album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (#35, 1970), was built around the story of trying to get a hit record. “Lola,” undoubtedly the first rock hit about a transvestite, reached #9. Lola was the group’s first Top 40 LP since 1966’s The Kinks Greatest Hits (#9).
The group then left Reprise for RCA, continuing to work on concept pieces, once again without hits. Nevertheless it acquired a reputation as a cheerfully boozy live band; Kinks performances were known for messy musicianship and onstage arguments between Ray and Dave Davies, while Ray clowned with limp wrists and sprayed beer at the audience. This was chronicled on Everybody’s in Show-Biz (#70, 1972), a double album split between Ray Davies’ first road songs and a loose live set.
Concept albums became soundtracks for theatrical presentations starring the Kinks in the next years. Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Soap Opera (#51, 1975), and Schoolboys in Disgrace (#45, 1975) were all composed for the stage, complete with extra horn players and singers. For all of the elaborate shows, though, the albums weren’t selling.
The Kinks left RCA and concept albums behind in 1976, and 1977’s Sleepwalker hit #21 with its title track (#48). They finally scored a hit in 1978 with “A Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy” (#30, 1978), off Misfits (#40, 1978). Low Budget (#11, 1979), aided by another successful 45, “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” (#41, 1979), became the Kinks’ first gold record since the Reprise greatest-hits collection of their early singles.
In the meantime, new groups began rediscovering the Kinks’ catalogue, notably Van Halen (“You Really Got Me”) and the Pretenders (“Stop Your Sobbing”). The group, which had tightened up considerably onstage with the addition of former Argent bassist Jim Rodford in 1978, responded with One for the Road (#14, 1980), a double live album that was accompanied by one of the first full-length rock videos. It, too, went gold, as did Give the People What They Want (#15, 1981).
Over the years, Ray Davies has also produced two albums by Claire Hamill (for his ill-fated Konk Records), worked with Tom Robinson, and scored the films The Virgin Soldiers and Percy. Dave Davies finally came out with a solo album, AFLI-3603, in 1980, followed by Glamourin 1981 and Chosen People in 1983; all featured Dave on most of the instruments and achieved modest success.
Thanks in part to some beautifully produced videos, the Kinks’ third wind continued with State of Confusion (#12, 1983), which gave the group its first Top 10 hit since “Lola”: the delightfully nostalgic “Come Dancing” (#6, 1983). A wistful ballad, “Don’t Forget to Dance,” cracked the Top 30 later in the year. Other mid-’80s activities included Return to Waterloo (1985), a film Ray Davies wrote and directed, incorporating Kinks music; and Ray having a daughter, Natalie, with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders in 1983. The relationship ended the following year. In 1986 Ray also acted in the film Absolute Beginners.
Beginning with Word of Mouth (#57, 1984), the Kinks once again fell on hard times. None of the band’s subsequent albums sold well. But the Kinks, with ex-Argent drummer Bob Henrit in place of Avory, remain a touring attraction. In 1993 the group undertook its first U.S. tour in more than three years to promote Phobia. The album’s first single, “Hatred (A Duet),” poked fun at the long-standing filial antagonism between Ray and Dave Davies that has led both brothers to quit the band on more than one occasion. Despite the sibling rivalry and sagging record sales, these 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees endure with dignity and wit. In 1992 Ray directed a documentary on the making of the Charles Mingus tribute album, Weird Nightmare.
The band’s 1996 release, To the Bone, was a live-in-the-studio rerecording of many of their hits. In 1995 Ray Davies’ “unauthorized autobiography” X-Ray was published in the U.S. He then did some shows performing a spoken word/unplugged piece called 20th Century Man, for which he read sections of his book and sang Kinks songs. By that time, the band’s reputation was enjoying another revival, as contemporary British stars Blur and Oasis acknowledged their debt to the Kinks. And in the U.S., Velvel Records initiated a 15-album reissue series of the group’s classic recordings. Dave published Kink, his own autobiography, in 1997, a recounting of his early debauchery and current interest in metaphysics. Also in the ’90s he provided the musical score for John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned and toured with a band called Dave Davies Kink Kronikles. In 2000 Ray Davies’ first collection of short stories, Waterloo Sunset: Stories, was published.
from The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)